Panel weighs leaders' salaries

Big increase urged for executive, smaller raises for council

Change seen for Dec. 2002

Howard County

October 23, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's next executive should get significantly more money, and County Council salaries should increase only slightly, a seven-member citizen commission tentatively agreed last night.

"We felt the county executive's salary is so far out of whack we need to do something there," the group's chairman, Charles E. Weller, said during a discussion of the salaries.

Members of the Compensation Review Commission said council pay should increase by $1,200, to $35,000, after next year's election, and then rise yearly based on the Consumer Price Index for the Washington metropolitan area.

They did not decide on a figure - or even mention one - for the executive, although in a discussion last month someone suggested an annual salary of about $125,000 - a substantial boost.

Last night's session was scheduled as a public hearing, but no one came to testify. Six of the seven commission members were present, and took advantage of the time to also discuss how to increase the executive's pay - in one leap, starting in Dec. 2002, after next year's election, or more gradually over the four-year term to forestall any political backlash.

"I think we ought to take a leap, and take it up," said Edward L. Waddell who, like other members, said the county executive should not be making "so much less" than people he supervises.

But John Nuffer disagreed, saying, "I don't know. I just think of the public perception of it. People now are being laid off."

Korva Coleman, another member, said she finds it "unbelievable" that many county employees make more than their boss, but she, too, advised a cautious approach.

None of the six members present suggested a specific salary figure.

"The bottom line is, what's the job worth?" said Frank J. Bloom, who favors an immediate, big pay raise. And Lynn Benton, another member, said, "We don't want salary to be the reason people run for the post, or the reason someone can't afford to run."

Howard County's elected officials are due a small pay raise in December for the final year of this four-year term. County Executive James N. Robey's salary is scheduled to rise to $98,500 then, while council salaries will increase to $33,800, with $1,000 more for the chairman.

Robey, former county police chief, took a pay cut to become executive. Even after his December raise, Robey will be earning slightly less than he made as chief in 1997.

More than 20 appointed Howard officials make more than the county executive, topped by school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's $180,000.

In his interview with the review commission last month, Robey said he has spent more than $10,000 on tickets to charitable events he feels compelled to attend as executive, often with his wife.

Howard is in the middle of the pay range for officials in the Baltimore area, though the duties and the size of their districts vary widely. Howard's council members, for example, represent about 50,000 people each, but they also serve as the county Zoning Board and occasionally hear Liquor Board cases.

In Baltimore County, council members represent over 100,000 people each and have no other role in government. They will earn about $45,000 in the next term.

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